Feb 4, 2020 - Science

Solar Orbiter to offer a new look at our nearest star

Artist's illustration of the Solar Orbiter. Image: NASA/NASA Goddard

A new mission expected to launch to space from Florida on Sunday will give scientists an unprecedented view of the Sun.

Why it matters: Despite decades of studying our closest star, scientists still can't accurately predict our Sun's behavior — when it will eject solar flares, sprout sunspots or how the solar wind works.

  • The joint NASA/European Space Agency mission, called Solar Orbiter, is designed to help researchers find a way to predict this space weather, which can harm satellites, astronauts and even the electrical grid.

Details: The spacecraft will snap photos of the Sun's poles for the first time, hopefully helping researchers figure out how the star's magnetic field is generated and what drives the solar wind.

  • Solar Orbiter's mission is expected to last about seven years, passing as close as 26 million miles from the star.
  • "Solar Orbiter will give us a comprehensive, full view of the entire Sun and how the Sun is impacting throughout the entire solar system," Holly Gilbert, NASA's project scientist for the mission, said in a video.

What to watch: Solar Orbiter data will complement information gathered by the Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018.

  • The Parker probe will be closer to the Sun, allowing it to learn more about the star from close range, while the Solar Orbiter will be farther away giving those data points context.
  • Occasionally, the orbits of the two spacecraft will line up such that both will be able to sample the same stream of solar wind from different positions.

Go deeper: New telescope takes highest-resolution photo of the Sun's surface

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We're about to learn a lot more about the Sun

The Sun is getting its due. Photo: NASA/SDO/AIA

The Sun is getting a long-overdue close-up thanks to a number of new missions designed to reveal the inner workings of our nearest star.

Why it matters: The mechanisms that govern the solar wind, the Sun's 11-year cycle and magnetic fields are still largely a mystery.

Go deeperArrowFeb 11, 2020 - Science

Wind and solar would struggle to replace coal-mining jobs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A global transition is underway from coal to renewable energy, but a corresponding jobs shift is far less certain.

Driving the news: Wind-industry jobs aren’t a “feasible” replacement for local coal-mining jobs in the world’s four biggest coal-producing nations, and although solar is better situated than wind, it would require a massive buildout, a new peer-reviewed report finds.

Astronomers capture a stellar deep space confrontation

Photo: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Olofsson, et al.

There's no match for the drama of a confrontation in deep space. Astronomers spotted this gas cloud created when one dying star became a red giant, growing large enough to encircle a companion star.

What's happening: The companion star then fell toward the dying one, forcing it to slough off its outer layers of gas, according to the European Southern Observatory, exposing its core.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - Science